Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 1 February 2013

After the Fall - Charity Norman

‘I hoped I was dreaming, because this was a terrifying nightmare.’

Five-year-old Finn is taken by rescue helicopter to hospital one night after a fall from the upstairs balcony of his family home deep in rural New Zealand. He has been known to sleepwalk, so the fall was surely just a terrible accident. However, Finn’s mum Martha knows more about what happened that night than she is prepared to reveal to those questioning it.

The McNamara family has moved to New Zealand to make a new start. There newfound paradise is idyllic but it won’t be without problems or challenges for them all. The move was prompted by a need to escape and try to find a new life for them, especially for Martha and husband Kit, an artist whose business in the UK has failed as so many others have, and whose thoughts were descending into despair at where his life was heading. Martha thinks the move will offer a chance to save him and revitalise his painting with the beautiful landscapes they discover all around them. Martha and Kit’s twin sons, Finn and Charlie see it all as an adventure; they’ll miss their Grandfather and friends but will soon adapt to the new place and see all the possibilities for play and exploration. Martha’s daughter from a previous relationship, Sacha, is sixteen-years-old and for her it is a difficult time to be separated from everything she has even known.

The narrative shifts in time, and the author builds up the background to the move, introducing us to Martha’s sister and father, to Sacha’s life at school, and to Kit’s troubles. We are aware of the history that has prompted the family to move.

This is a lovely novel, so well written, with a central character in Martha that has so much to deal with, and tries to do the best she can for her family. She carries secrets from the past, and she has her love tested to the absolute limits. Martha is a compelling narrator and one whose voice I was gripped by throughout. We learn of her relationship with her mother, we see her grow and change in New Zealand, taking on a new job, having to be so strong to deal with things affecting her family, and yet finding moments to become Martha, not mother or wife but just herself, and to experience growth in her own life:

‘I felt a sense of something deep within myself, something I didn’t quite recognize. After thinking for some minutes I realized that I was actually proud of myself. I’d done something I’d been afraid to do. For once I hadn’t sat on the fence and watched my children; I hadn’t been the photographer, the waver-off, the cheerer on the sidelines. It had been a long time since I’d had an achievement that wasn’t vicarious.’

Martha spends a lot of the novel in difficult situations, with scenarios to deal with and decisions to make that no-one would envy. She is human, she is flawed, and I warmed to her and willed things to go right. Her character prompted me to think about her motivations and about how I would react to the events that befall her; would I react in the same way? Sacha is also a well-drawn and complex character.

More than one character needs the opportunity for a second chance and for forgiveness, both of which are dominant themes in the novel. Despite there being a lot to express about the issues that are dealt with in the story, I feel that to say anymore about them here would spoil it for those yet to read the book – you must discover the twists and turns as you read.

This well-written novel made me think about family and love, the bonds that are so tight between a mother and her children, between a husband and wife, and how that love and trust that we develop and depend on can be severely stretched and tested, how deeply those we love the most can hurt us, and the power of forgiveness.

I was very impressed by this novel throughout; the storytelling, the characters and the development of both were strong and well handled. I felt like every encounter and conversation drove the narrative on and had a purpose towards the story as a whole, there was nothing surplus as can sometimes be the case.

Charity Norman deals sensitively and yet thoroughly with modern day issues that can be frightening for all involved, and will test this family to the limits of love.

It’s a book that I wanted both to read quickly and discover how the plot unfolded and yet wanted to savour and not to come to an end because I was really enjoying reading it.

New Zealand is a country I’ve spent time traveling in myself and which I love, and it was wonderful to read a novel set there, indeed to read about a family’s dream to start again there. The author incorporates aspects of Maori mythology into the conversations with some of the friends the family makes, which I enjoyed reading.

The storyline totally captivated me and I found it very moving; at the end I shed a few tears at the outcome. I wish my review could do it even a bit of justice. This is a talented author at work. More please.

Published by Allen and Unwin

Thank you to the publisher for kindly sending a copy of this novel to read and review. 

After the Fall is one of the Richard and Judy Book Club picks for Spring 2013

You can find the author on twitter @CharityNorman1 and on facebook here. 


  1. Lins, what a fabulous review. I can tell how it captured you by your words - the feelings jump off the page.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. It did totally capture me Shaz, so many aspects of it which I loved, setting, characters, style, tone.
      Thanks for commenting x

  2. Wonderful review! I loved this one too :-)

    1. Thanks, it's a lovely read isn't it, very well done. Thanks for commenting Amanda.

  3. I considered buying this for my Mum a while ago, but went with one I knew a little more about. Reading your review has made me think that it could have been a good choice for her, maybe mother's day?


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